The Religious Foundations of Francis Bacon's Thought

By Stephen A. McKnight | Go to book overview

Introduction
Bacon’s Religion Obscured
The Problem of Reading in the “Future Indicative”

Marina Leslie recently observed that Francis Bacon’s writings are frequently read in the “future indicative.”1 She means by this that many scholars treat Bacon as a visionary advocate of the social and political benefits to be derived from science and technology, and that they judge the merits of his work in terms of his influence on eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century developments. While Professor Leslie’s reference is to recent scholarship, her observation is apposite to earlier interpretations as well. The Enlightenment, for example, valorized Bacon as the heroic promoter of human rational action over passive faith in divine Providence and portrayed him as a secular humanitarian, who realized that “relief of man’s estate” depended on human action and not on God’s saving acts in history.2 Early interpreters, who shaped this point of view, and those who have subsequently followed it, associate Bacon with empiricism, rationality, and secularization.3 Because of this focus, many scholars give little attention to Bacon’s use of religious themes, images, and motifs or they contend that Bacon uses them in a manipulative, cynical fashion in order to establish rapport and influence with intellectual and political elites, whose support was vital to his enterprise but who were less enlightened than he.4

Interpretations from the perspective of the “future indicative” have been and continue to be the predominant approach to Bacon’s work.5 A survey

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